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To celebrate Vikings Live, we have replaced our Roman alphabet with the runic alphabet used by the Vikings, the Scandinavian ‘Younger Futhark’. The ‘Younger Futhark’ has only 16 letters, so we have used some of the runic letters more than once or combined two runes for one Roman letter.

For an excellent introduction to runes, we recommend Martin Findell’s book published by British Museum Press.

More information about how we have ‘runified’ this site

 

Beasts of Burden

For thousands of years, people have sought to harness the power of animals to make our own lives easier.

The relationship between human and beast has been unequal for a long time, but especially for beasts of burden.

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Wooden model of man ploughing with Oxen (Egypt, about 2040–1750 BC)
  • 1

    Wooden model of man ploughing with Oxen (Egypt, about 2040–1750 BC) 

    Working animals

    Large animals are good at pulling heavy objects, especially machinery used in farming, such as ploughs.

    Animals which can pull carts are also necessary for taking produce to a place where it can be sold, and for carrying people. Before the age of the petrol engine if you wanted to get around faster than human walking pace, you had to be pulled by a beast – most often a horse, ass or donkey.

    Camels can travel long distances in harsh conditions with heavy loads, making them ideal for transporting goods.

  • 2

    Paulus Potter, drawing of a horse harnessed to a cart (Netherlands, AD 1650s) 

    Working animals

    Large animals are good at pulling heavy objects, especially machinery used in farming, such as ploughs.

    Animals which can pull carts are also necessary for taking produce to a place where it can be sold, and for carrying people. Before the age of the petrol engine if you wanted to get around faster than human walking pace, you had to be pulled by a beast – most often a horse, ass or donkey.

    Camels can travel long distances in harsh conditions with heavy loads, making them ideal for transporting goods.

  • 3

    Glass gem showing camel, loaded with a pack (Roman, AD 100–300) 

    Working animals

    Large animals are good at pulling heavy objects, especially machinery used in farming, such as ploughs.

    Animals which can pull carts are also necessary for taking produce to a place where it can be sold, and for carrying people. Before the age of the petrol engine if you wanted to get around faster than human walking pace, you had to be pulled by a beast – most often a horse, ass or donkey.

    Camels can travel long distances in harsh conditions with heavy loads, making them ideal for transporting goods.

  • 4

    Persepolis relief showing horse and chariot (Iran, 400s BC) 

    Ceremonial animals

    Large-scale events and celebrations are made all the more grand by the inclusion of impressive beasts. Huge chariots and magnificent animals can help to show off the owner’s wealth and extravagance to invited guests.

    The Persians paraded in long lines to pay their respects to the king, bringing with them gifts of horses and cattle, while Indian emperors travelled in style on the back of elephants.

    Chinese emperors and rich officials were buried along with their trusted horses, in the belief that their loyal servants in life would pull their chariots in the afterlife.

  • 5

    Painting of elephant with extravagant howdah (India, early AD 1800s) (detail) 

    Ceremonial animals

    Large-scale events and celebrations are made all the more grand by the inclusion of impressive beasts. Huge chariots and magnificent animals can help to show off the owner’s wealth and extravagance to invited guests.

    The Persians paraded in long lines to pay their respects to the king, bringing with them gifts of horses and cattle, while Indian emperors travelled in style on the back of elephants.

    Chinese emperors and rich officials were buried along with their trusted horses, in the belief that their loyal servants in life would pull their chariots in the afterlife.

  • 6

    Tang painted clay and wooden figure of a horse (China, AD 700s) 

    Ceremonial animals

    Large-scale events and celebrations are made all the more grand by the inclusion of impressive beasts. Huge chariots and magnificent animals can help to show off the owner’s wealth and extravagance to invited guests.

    The Persians paraded in long lines to pay their respects to the king, bringing with them gifts of horses and cattle, while Indian emperors travelled in style on the back of elephants.

    Chinese emperors and rich officials were buried along with their trusted horses, in the belief that their loyal servants in life would pull their chariots in the afterlife.

  • 7

    Standard of Ur (Iraq, 2600–2400 BC) 

    Fighting animals

    Beasts of burden have also been taken into the field of combat for thousands of years, their power and speed helping to win battles and wars.

    The standard of Ur shows an early depiction of the Sumerian army, with so-called battlecars, an early type of chariot, being pulled by teams of donkeys.

    But it is horses which are perhaps the strongest animals to go into battle. They can be ridden as well as used for transporting weapons and prisoners, from the Arab conquest and the American Civil War to the battlefields of the First World War.

  • 8

    Woodblock print of horses swimming at the battle of Uji (Japan, AD 1851–52) 

    Fighting animals

    Beasts of burden have also been taken into the field of combat for thousands of years, their power and speed helping to win battles and wars.

    The standard of Ur shows an early depiction of the Sumerian army, with so-called battlecars, an early type of chariot, being pulled by teams of donkeys.

    But it is horses which are perhaps the strongest animals to go into battle. They can be ridden as well as used for transporting weapons and prisoners, from the Arab conquest and the American Civil War to the battlefields of the First World War.

  • 9

    Greek pot showing mythical oxen pulling a plough (Greece, 500s BC) 

    Mythical animals

    While animals in real life are put to work for people, so too are the beasts belonging to the gods.

    The ancient Greeks painted mythical oxen pulling the ploughs of the gods and a horse can been seen pulling the goddess Selene’s chariot on sculptures from the Parthenon in Athens. The Chinese warded off evil with the presence of fearsome dragons.

    Perhaps these mythical animals are intended to make us appreciate the hard work that beasts of burden do for us in real life?

  • 10

    Head of horse of Selene (Greece, 400s BC) 

    Mythical animals

    While animals in real life are put to work for people, so too are the beasts belonging to the gods.

    The ancient Greeks painted mythical oxen pulling the ploughs of the gods and a horse can been seen pulling the goddess Selene’s chariot on sculptures from the Parthenon in Athens. The Chinese warded off evil with the presence of fearsome dragons.

    Perhaps these mythical animals are intended to make us appreciate the hard work that beasts of burden do for us in real life?

  • 11

    What do they all have in common?

    You can’t simply turn any animal into a beast of burden; only some are suitable. Firstly they have to be strong enough to do the work required of them – you can’t put a plough on a pigeon. And secondly they must be capable of being tamed or domesticated in some way – imagine trying to get a lion or tiger to pull a chariot.